Budget Linens

A great linen can really make a photo. But if you shopped for high quality tablecloths and runners frequently like I do, you’ll probably find yourself with sticker shock more often than you’d like. Some of the big name stores like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn have pretty good sales, but I still find myself wincing if I have to pay more than $20 for a tablecloth and even on sale their good stuff may run more. Yes, I am that cheap.

Luckily, for photography, perfectly hemmed corners are rarely necessary. I invest in a few high-end cocktail and full sized napkins if I need to show a seam… the rest of the time, I simply use roughly cut fabric in 1 or 2 yard sizes. Sometimes I even like to show the frayed edges in my shots (but not often or it strikes me as a bit too contrived). Quilting quarters also make fantastic faux napkins.


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Dishtowels are also a bargain and make great faux tablecloths, placemats or runners. In some cases, you can get away with dishtowels as napkins if they are strategically placed partly out of the frame. In general though, if you are buying fabric to use as a napkin in your shot, smaller is usually better… a full sized napkin is often too big or too thick for photos.

If you are looking for some fun places for fabric, here are a couple I’ve recently discovered:

Pink Chalk Fabrics carries gorgeous designer printed fabric in really fun colors as well as some great solid linen and Kona cotton.

Whipstitch Fabrics on Etsy has beautiful natural fiber fabric. I’m in love with Ikoi from Moda in Lime with it’s beautiful Japanese calligraphy and it’s only $8 per yard (plus shipping).

Oilcloth addict has some really bright oil cloths perfect for summer, and maybe even cooler, chalk cloth which would be great for pot lucks… you can just write on the cloth to say what is what!

In Seattle, I like stopping in to Stitches to browse their selection. They always seem to have something new.

  • http://www.mattikaarts.com/blog matt wright

    LOVELY. been wondering where to get linens now for a while, but like you, get sticker shock at some of the better known places.

  • Grandma

    You think showing edges is contrived but not your entire business? I mean, come on. Everything you shoot is freaking contrived!!!! Give us a break.

  • http://74limelane.com.au Kellie

    A lovely reason to collect linen even though I can’t sew!!

  • http://TheRepressedPastryChef.com Em

    Thanks for posting this – especially all the links! I can’t afford to break the bank for things like this but I still want a nice look.

  • http://thesplitpea.blogspot.com Eralda

    Great tips. I have struggled with tablecloth purchases. The really beautiful and well-made ones are too expensive for me. Thanks for the great ideas. Lovely photos, too.

  • http://www.familyfriendlyfood.com/ Nurit – 1 family. friendly. food.

    Pier 51 have interesting/fun fabrics, napkins, and placemats as well which are not too expensive.

  • http://gourmeted.com Joy

    I recently got into sewing and realized my fabrics (scraps and all) are great to use for food photos. No need to buy all that tablecloth. :)

  • The Apprentice

    Yes, fabric sales at stores which sell by the yard are great, and usually they will sell as little as a 1/4 of a yd.

    So, if store prices are too high, you can find the name of the designer/pattern in the store, then e-bay or anywhere online is also a good place to find pieces/batches at lower prices.

    Sometimes though, keeping the iron out and getting the fabric good is too much of a pain, so I also invest in colored paper, and sometimes wrapping paper. I learned that from a photographer, also.

  • http://thezoeblog.blogspot.com zoe

    Great idea! I sometimes use place mats with different textures and colors under my dishes. I love your blog!

  • http://www.kimgray.za.net KIM GRAY

    LOVELY!!! Also collect fabrics and serviette’s etc being a stylist, nothing like a pile of fabric!

  • http://chicagophotostylist.com Paula

    You can find wonderful vintage napkins, tablecloths, and towels at flea markets, antique stores & thrift shops. We stylists & photographers have the advantage of needing just one of a kind, and can often work around flaws, so I find great bargains out there. I especially love the heavy homespun European type fabrics, or linens that have been washed to a perfect softness that drapes beautifully! Most are natural fabrics, too. Happy hunting!

  • http://www.fondtimes.com Scott

    Thanks for the terrific tips on styling on a budget.